Friday Flotsam: A few Quick Points on Authority and Other Things

A few quick conclusions crystalized or articulated over the past week or so.

1. Authority derives from relations and consequent responsibility. In fact, ‘responsibility’ is in a sense only another term for ‘authority’. Because to the extent that you are responsible for something, you must be able to exercise decision making power over it.

2. Authority is dependent on relationship, not outcome. A specific individual may conceivably lose his authority by misconduct, but the authority inherent in a particular kind of relation cannot be ‘abstractly’ abolished.

To take a concrete example, a particular man may lose his parental authority through abusing his children, but no amount of individual abusive fathers can strip ‘fatherhood’ of its authority.

3. Rule of law properly means rule of authority, as opposed to rule by threat and force. That is, we submit to rulers because they stand in a certain relation to us and to the extent that that relation gives them responsibility over us. Rule of law means the recognition and enforcement of this legitimate authority on all levels (including individual authority).

The only alternative to legitimate, recognized authority is raw force, and the difference between crime and punishment is simply that the person doing it has the authority to enact the punishment. If you will not recognize legitimate authority, you will be left with only force with which to guard your position.

4. It is rule of authority that limits the power of the ruler, not rule by ‘reason’, qualifications, wisdom, or the like. Because legitimate authority comes with natural limits: ‘being right’ does not (that, and who has the greater scope for proving his case and having that proof noised abroad: you or the government?).

5. To put it another way, much of the erosion of individual liberties comes from treating questions of authority as if they were questions of cost/benefit. Statistics and scientific data do not actually have anything to do with the question of whether the state or my employer can legitimately compel me to do something. Those things may be relevant once it’s determined that it does fall within their scope as a guide to what decision they should make, but if it doesn’t fall within their authority, then it makes no difference whatsoever if it’s a good idea or not: they don’t have the right to compel me to do it.

Data may be important in making a decision, but it has no bearing on whether it is your decision to make.

6. From an exchange with a friend earlier this week:
‘It would work if everyone went along with it’ is to politics what ‘It would work if we had unlimited resources’ is to economics. The whole reason this science exists in the first place is because that specific scenario is never going to happen!

7. If you have a hundred thousand ‘sovereigns’, then whoever is in charge of arbitrating between them is the real sovereign.

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